In honour of International Women's Day WNT founder Jennie Duck shares her joy in working with a team of women at WNT
I have said it before and I’ll say it again – and again – Working With Women is Wonderful!! I did not intentionally set out to curate a team of women at West Norwood Therapies – I just set out to create a team that worked well together, that supported one another, that played their individual part in collaboration and contributing towards a healthy, happy and productive working environment. And it turns out this particular team of women does just that!
We are all professional and highly skilled in our fields and we all work well as independent, individual practitioners working one on one with clients. And then we come together and share, talk, laugh and support one another. During lockdown we had zoom calls almost every week and we all found this to be something akin to group therapy, a time we could check in and feel connected with one another.
For the first time we are planning an in-house ‘retreat’ this summer – a few days away together to enjoy one another’s company and strengthen our personal as well as professional bonds and treat one another to our therapies too.
Perhaps I’ve been lucky with this particular group of women, but given the women who have come and gone from WNT I know that the magic goes beyond our current small team. It is precious that we can mix the personal with professional, the emotional with the practical and offer one another a web of support where we feel secure and content in our work.
Here’s to all the Wonderful Women of the World. We love men too but today is all about the XXs so here I acknowledge Wonder where it rises 😊
That 'Blue Monday' feeling
As 'Blue Monday' - apparently the most depressing day of the year - looms WNT founder Jennie Duck looks at some small actions that can help us navigate times of bleakness.
Welcome to mid-January, the time when the anticipation and excitement of Christmas is over, the days are short and grey, we are often beginning a long ‘term’ of work or education and spring can feel a long way off. This year we are also 2 years into a pandemic that has brough uncertainty, fear, mistrust and pain in abundance. Whatever our personal experience of covid has been to date, the atmosphere around our country – indeed around the world – cannot fail to permeate our own individual world and we may be feeling the residue of this for a time yet.
We have things that can help us, however, and there is hope and peace to be found in amongst any bleakness. These are some things that can help when we feel short on optimism, energy or hope.
Rest. Our bodies need down time, they need to switch off and we can take a leaf out of nature’s book and hunker down in these winter months.
Walks in fresh air. Sometimes going outside is the last thing we feel like doing…but if we can make the step it can really help us feel more alive and at peace.
Music. Music can lift us or it can connect us to the difficult feelings we need to feel. We can create playlists for whatever we want – to dance to, to cry to, to sing along, to remember people and experiences.
Hugging. IF we’re lucky enough to have someone we love nearby then there is little more wonderful than a long embrace. If we are alone we can still hug ourselves – google ‘butterfly hug’ or look for our post from a year ago about this.
Creativity. Finding ways to express ourselves whether this is to release some dark emotion or create beauty from nothing, connecting to our creativity is connecting to life’s energy.
Meditation. Staying present, being here, everything as it is. Let go of struggle, effort and getting to know your mind and body more intimately, it’s so valuable.
Yoga. If you practice yoga regularly you might be familiar with the space, acceptance and support that yoga can bring.
Talking and sharing. When we feel bleak the most tempting thing can often be to shut down and hide away. And yet there is likely someone near to you feeling the same thing and the connection that can be gained by sharing your experience can be an incredibly warming feeling.
Space and solitude. Just as important as connection with others is connection with ourselves, stepping out of the busyness of life and finding some space to be with ourselves.
Take time out for things you enjoy. It can be tempting to throw yourself into the ‘shoulds’ and zone out the rest of the time, but if we can really let ourselves have the opportunity to find joy and fulfilment in something, whether it is going for a run, dancing in the kitchen or stroking the cat this is important stuff that we would do well to make central rather than peripheral in our lives.
Give up! Some days nothing will help and perhaps what is needed is just to retreat into the murky waters and let yourself do absolutely nothing whatsoever.
Therapies. Last but by no means least, go for a massage! Or for acupuncture, reflexology, reiki, sound therapies or any other therapy that feels good to you, gives you a space where you are looked after and cared for and leaves you feeling rested and revived.
So as we approach ‘blue Monday’ we can keep in mind there are some ideas that can be helpful when life feels less vibrant. And sometimes they can help us remember that spring is just around the corner.
What can I learn from slugs?
WNT founder and veg grower Jennie Duck considers her relationship with slugs and how learning to live with them could be a fertile ground (pun intended) for letting the 'bad' feelings coexist with the good.
It’s wet in Scotland today. Very wet. The river outside our house is flowing with force after a relentless 36 hours of rain. Not the best day to be working in the veg patch but first chance in a while and there is plenty of old vegetation to remove, relentless weeds to pull and gazillions of slugs abounding. They seem to thrive in the wet and this morning I found tens of them, ranging in size from a couple of millimetres up to a couple of inches.
Then I began to explore yoga principles, to reflect and shift toward living more aligned with considered values. The yogic concept of ‘ahimsa’ - the idea of living in a non-harming way - presented a challenge and I began to wonder how that could work in a veg patch. We are an almost-vegetarian household and conscious about where and how we source any meat or dairy products we use and yet I was crushing slugs willy-nilly in the name of nicer looking kale.
This year my attitude has been somewhat more laissez faire. I have transported slugs to the compost heap rather than drowning them with the weeds or squishing them. I have been less diligent with weeding, giving them more places to hide and more leverage to get up to the nice juicy leaves. They have gone rampant, the compost heap is obviously a brilliant place for them to breed and a brilliant place for them to work their way back to the veg patch or over to the greenhouse…
Happiness at work
WNT founder Jennie Duck considers the pull towards happiness at work that led her to establish West Norwood Therapies and celebrates the ways in which we can find happiness at work. (it's International 'happiness at work' week by the way!)
This week is international ‘Happiness at Work’ week and it got me thinking about why I started West Norwood Therapies in the first place. To be happier at work!
I always loved my work as a massage therapist and now that I’ve not been practicing for a while I really miss the interaction with clients, working one-to-one with people in that way is a special thing. I loved the practical side of massage, of finding areas that needed attention and working on them to help bring relief and often insights for the client as to what was contributing to discomfort or what could help them in day to day life. There is an element of problem solving and the happy place where science meets art - this is really a blissful state for me when I find that balance. I loved the conversations that arose during that time together and the trust that built up over months and years of working with people. I loved the variety of personalities, of bodies, of challenges and of energy.
I’m using the past tense ‘loved’ as if my massage days are over! When really, as my volcano mad son says, I am just in a dormant phase and am keen to become active again soon.
Despite all of this interaction and variety working with clients, being a massage therapist can be a lonely job. You are always in the therapist role with clients, however friendly the interaction becomes. And unless you seek them out you can lack peer support. I worked in several clinics where I rented the room to see clients and I met other therapists there, but I felt like there was an opportunity for a more cohesive, shared working environment.
And so West Norwood Therapies was born. The idea was that this would be a collaborative collective and we would all contribute to the environment and running of the place and we would have regular meetups to offer one another peer support and become a network and team.
It’s our 7th birthday in October, a fact that makes me very happy indeed! And I feel even happier that the concept of a collaborative collective feels so collaborative and like such a collective now. Our team has evolved over the years and the shrinking of it with the closure of the studio room last year was a trauma that our smaller team has come through and I feel that we are now stronger than ever.
I am happy in my work and I am grateful for the team that makes this possible. Over that long gruelling winter lockdown we had weekly check-ins which were a bit like group therapy, we all opened up and supported one another. This has made us closer and sharing our vulnerabilities has given us a resilience that we couldn’t have achieved without.
Next weekend I’ll be in London for the first time since coming down to clear out the studio last summer. I am excited to see my lovely colleagues and have a meeting together to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next, to share and to plan, to celebrate and to look at what we have learned. I know it will be interesting, helpful, collaborative and fun. I am a lucky ducky to be in this position and I highly recommend opening yourself up to the possibility of strong work relationships and the happiness at work these can bring.
WNT founder Jennie Duck looks at how this time of year can represent clearing and new horizons for us individually and shares what this means for her and her family this 'back to school' season
It could have been our son’s first day of school in mid-August when the Scottish schools went back. We celebrated our choice not to enrol him with some ginger ice lollies (new discovery – amazing!) and splurging our monthly home ed budget within a few days on a trip to the Glasgow Science Centre, a day at a local activity park and a horse riding lesson.
For us this feeling is liberating and fuels a zest for a rich and creative life in our family home. It means the summer can go on a bit longer as we chop wood and turn veg into chutney and it means we can graudally build and change routines as fits us and the seasonal shape of our rural life.
Last week a friend was sharing with me his feelings about the new term down in England beginning and to him the return to school felt like a relief. For the shape of their family life school is a welcome and important part of the structure. It is liberating in how it allows parents to work and focus in work after the intensity of working and schooling from home over lockdown.
For me this step out of Summer into Autumn is a time of clearing, reflecting and planning. In the veg patch I am clearing beds of onions and celery, cleaning out pots, planning next years beds and planting winter veg. In my role with WNT I am looking forward to a London visit later this month to get together with the team for a reflection and planning session (as well as a knees up ;-) ) And in my personal life I am looking at my balance of work, home, friends, hobbies and commitments and seeing where I can even things out.
At WNT we have been working through the summer and yet there is s till a strong ‘back to school / work’ feeling that changes our dynamic and patterns come September. We shift gear and move into a more active phase, there’s a bit of freshness in the air and a drive to find momentum after the paradoxically busy and relaxing summer.
It seems that this move into autumn can carry this feeling of a new chapter, fresh horizons more than other seasonal shifts. I wonder how much this is engrained in us from our early childhood and school terms after the long summer and how much is the nature of the season that sees leaves shedding from the trees to leave the fullness of summer behind. We are moving on away from something, we are not yet in the midst of winter, we are not even in the midst of autumn. But we are leaving the summer behind and we are stepping into the next phase of our lives, jobs, schools, families and seasons.
Whatever this season holds for you I wish you well!
Why do I do what I do?
WNT founder Jennie Duck expands on the question Why Do We Do What We Do in her blog reflecting on what she loves and misses about being a massage therapist and how finding a therapist you connect with is so important.
Our team at WNT has been considering the question Why Do We Do What We Do? in honour of International Wellness Week and it’s made me miss working with clients more than ever!
For various reasons I haven’t worked as a massage therapist for 4 years now and I crave the return. I was setting up a treatment space at the start of 2020 but then covid hit and all of us had to hold back with the work we know can help so much, it has been tantalising for all!
Helping people is a huge part of why I want to get back to it. During my time not working I have continued to be a client to various practitioners as well as interactions with medical professionals and I am all the more acutely aware of why what we do is so valuable. The hour that we spend with our clients is precious time, it is an intimate, intricate and opportunistic time where the bond that we develop allows our work to do its magic. Bodywork therapists have knowledge and intuition and skill and if we can hold the space for what needs attention and a good connection happens with the client then these all fuse together to give a powerful result.
One thing I love is how my work as a massage therapist is to combine the science of my training in anatomy, physiology and massage therapy with intuition that comes from an innate sensitivity as well as hours of listening and working with clients. This combination of science and intuition leads to massage being a form of art – I sort of let my hands (and forearms and elbows!) go and find what they need to find. This makes massage a creative outlet for me and one that is in a relationship with someone that I am working with, so it is strongly connecting and rewarding in that way.
Each of us in the team at WNT has our own approach to work – even when our treatments are ostensibly similar we are each unique as practitioners and how we approach our work. It is really a personal thing and, I believe, that that personal aspect is what makes our work so valuable. Connection really does have a powerful impact and I always encourage people to find the practitioner you connect with as this can determine the potency of your treatment and make it all the more enjoyable too.
On Maternal Mental Health Day WNT founder Jennie Duck considers how she finds being a mother and fantasises about things that she thinks would improve mental health in mothers and society
I love being a mother. I love having that relationship with my son. I love being around him, I love watching him grow, I love sharing his important moments and hearing him find himself and his passions. I love snuggling him to sleep and being woken by him in the morning (less so at 4am). I love the richness he brings to my life and the ways that relationship pushes me to grow and be a better person.
It is also challenging, in particular the expectations I realise I have of myself around what it means to be a mum and who else I am ‘allowed’ to be at the same time. I find the juggling is difficult and varied and I have had to work to create self care time as I wrote about in a Shame and Self Care blog. I am still working hard to hold onto myself as a broad, multifaceted creature and realise how easy it is to slip back into the assumption that being a ‘good’ mother is synonymous with total self sacrifice. These are my expectations on myself and that I see in mothers around me, which must come from the world and society in which we were raised.
Maternal mental health is important for our children’s mental health and for our society at large. And I believe it is a challenge to all mothers to maintain mental health. We have a constant need to juggle and our brains and bodies are expected to jump in all directions often simultaneously. We are often tired and overstretched and I think our society has a long way to go to accommodate flourishing mental health for us.
I love Caitlin Moran’s insight into how we are forever changed on a chemical level by motherhood:
“No one really talks about the chemical elements of parenting but when you think about it, this is what underpins everything. Humans are essentially bags of chemicals We choose our mate on their smell, their hormones subliminally whispering to us in a neanderthal grunt ‘this man make good baby with you’ then when a woman gets pregnant, what is created in her uterus is essentially a living hormonal implant emitting random amounts of fuck knows what into her system and rewiring her entire body and brain in a massive hormonal pyroclustic blast that she never fully recovers from” (Caitlin Moran in More Than a Woman)
Here are my fantasies of how a shift in our expectations could come about that might better support maternal mental health:
...It was widely understood and accepted by society that pregnant women are going through an immense change that involves so much loss as well as gain. That there is much to be grieved in becoming a mother - a sense of self, alone time, sleep, some friendships, an ability to wholly commit to something else, our bodies as they were, our attitudes as they were - everything as it was!
...we recognised openly that ‘tired and hormonal’ can really mean ‘can barely lift myself off the chair and feel like my brain is exploding’ and realised that those things shouldn’t be ignored just because they are common, that in fact this is womanhood in all its glorious colours, a rainbow to be celebrated and supported.
...our society recognised the value in rest and supporting mothers to get rest that they need from the early weeks of pregnancy through to their children leaving home, that work breaks for naps were a given and it was built into our expectations that we are all healthier and happier when well rested.
…our government understood ’supporting childcare needs’ less as simply making the age for group child care lower and more the benefits to our future society of child care with a much lower adult to child ratio
...we gave more space to the fact that bringing a child into a relationship utterly changes the relationship and can often leave the person who didn’t give birth feeling left out so that couples finding themselves in this difficult place don’t feel bad or wrong and instead know this is their rites of passage to get through.
...we allowed women to work and be a primary carer by helping support the caring part better, that the person paid to look after the child can feasibly be the one who loves them best and that we didn’t feel it was a constant sacrifice between our work passions and our family as to who gets more of our time and energy.
...we celebrated the changes in women’s bodies that come with pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, getting older and the menopause and let go of any expectation or idealisation of ‘back to a pre-pregnancy body’ - what if we could celebrate every stage of women’s bodies....
...it was widely understood that Feminism doesn't mean ignoring biology but restructuring society so that we can accommodate everyone fairly rather than simply ‘letting’ women do more and more things.
...things that strengthen our bodies, minds and spirits like yoga, mediation, therapies and walking were valued to such a degree that we assumed it was part of our every day like eating and washing.
...we understood that you cannot separate the physical from the mental or emotional and that our mental health is always going to be affected by things that affect our bodies, like pregnancy and motherhood.
The optimist in me sees some steps in some of these directions and is hopeful that society is changing, however incrementally. At the heart of any of this change is kindness and compassion - things that we so value in the act of mothering that surely should be so highly valued in how we treat our mothers in society.
Shame and Self Care
WNT founder Jennie Duck shares her thoughts on how shame get in the way of self care and how spending time with her own shame and prioritising self care has helped transform her life and relationships for the better.
The idea of shame as an impediment to self-care has been niggling at me for a while. I wonder how much our ideas of what we ‘should’ be doing get in the way of what we really want to do and what we feel is a justifiable use of our time. I wonder how much we sacrifice ways we can nurture ourselves for the ‘greater good’ of work, family and duty and I wonder how much of a negative impact this has on our lives, and those around us, that we don’t always see.
When I talk about ‘self-care’ I am talking about things that nurture our bodies, minds and spirits. The things we love doing, things that make us come alive. Self-care is the things that nourish us. Self-care can be exercise, nutrition and meditation. It can also be music, art, creating something, playing with a pet, talking with a close friend.
For me, the exercise, nutrition and meditation side of things are easier to get to. This is because my personal version of shame means that for me to feel worthy I must be ‘healthy’. But it took an outsider view from my husband when he told me a couple of years ago “I’m scared the mornings you don’t do yoga” to recognise that the value in taking time for myself extended beyond just me looking after myself, that it had a knock on impact on the rest of my family and life.
I used to feel a lot of shame, too, around the good feelings that came from looking after myself in this way. I felt good and then felt ashamed that I felt good – life is meant to be hard, I’m meant to strive, I have responsibilities, I can’t be relaxed and happy??! So this led to spirals in how I responded and the ‘healthy’ behaviours became undermined by excessive consumption of sugar or alcohol or I just wouldn’t make a positive choice and self-sabotage myself.
Two years later, now that my own self care is a priority in my daily life, I don’t have these battles. My husband doesn’t have to be scared the mornings I don’t do yoga because if I haven’t it’s probably because I have done something else nurturing or I know I will find the time elsewhere for it. It’s not so pressured and the overall benefits of making this a priority mean I don’t have the same level of desperation around it, I don’t need to escape regular life so much and I don’t have the same shame triggered in me to knock me off course. I am more resilient.
To get to this point I had to spend time with that shame that trapped me. The shame that told me that I wasn’t good enough and that my time wasn’t only worthwhile if it was spent slogging on something or doing something for someone else. We all have our own shame triggers but there are common themes. Shame and vulnerability expert Brene Brown says “shame drives two main tapes: ‘never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are’”. Both of these resonate for me and are shackles that still restrict me, but they don’t have the same power that they used to have.
And now the next layer of freedom I am discovering is that I am now more able to move toward the things that I really want to do but aren’t as immediately ‘justifiable’ in my personal shame-frame of reference. I am spending time creatively, for the joy and fun of it – I still feel guilty about this and about choosing these solitary and ‘aimless’ ways to spend my time. I had to fight myself using the word ‘indulgent’ in this description!
We can’t let go of all of these other things – my family, my work and paying the bills are all vital to me – but maybe we can ease up on the limitations we place on ourselves in honour of these if we can face the idea that perhaps its more than the reality of those getting in the way, that perhaps it’s our relationship with them and our relationship with ourselves that needs some attention first. And perhaps if we can do that then these things we are making the sacrifices for will become richer because of it.
WNT founder Jennie Duck explores the competitive spirit that resides in her and looks at how the lessons of yin yoga helped her to let go of some of this striving and learn to live more gently and happily.
Over the past few years I’ve been working on letting go of a competitive streak in myself. This streak has a strong genetic influence and is not entirely unhealthy – it has helped me carve my own path, to meet interesting people and try interesting things, to build a career and business, to keep learning and growing and setting my sights high and far. It has given me ambition and for a long time I was grateful for that.
But I have learned that ‘ambition’ is far from a happy state and indeed is a barrier to wholehearted living and any sort of internal peace and contentedness.
The tool that has helped me shine a light on my relationship to competitiveness is yoga and, in particular, yin yoga. The irony is that it was my competitive streak that held my attention to yin yoga – proof that nothing is ever ‘good’ or ‘bad’, the richness lies in the ambiguity and dualities.
The first yin yoga class I did was called ‘deep tissue stretch’ and it was with Andrea Kwiatkowski on Movement for Modern Life, a blessing in the form of a subscription platform that has improved my life a gazillion fold with excellent teaching and ability to have daily classes for all moods and needs. I liked the sound of this class that would reach into areas ‘like a massage’ and looked forward to the results.
It was tough! I struggled to find ease in many of the poses and the idea of holding them for 2-5 minutes was new to me. Andrea held my attention with her acknowledgement that ‘you might find this quite a frustrating practice’ – so I understood that it wasn’t just me and I stayed with it.
I gradually learned to back off, to ease away from ‘the edge’ as it is referred to in yin and to approach each pose in a softer way. I learned that this allowed the release I needed to go further – that yielding in my striving led to the yielding my body was craving, that easing off my effort allowed me to find much more progress and development in the work I was doing with this practice.
My physical yoga practice, known in yoga as asana and how we often understand ‘yoga’ generally, is my training ground for life and a touchstone that helps me understand who and where I am and what needs to change and how that change can come about in my life off the mat. So these lessons of yin, of lessening the effort, of not pushing so hard or trying to override where you already are, of going with rather than against and of listening acutely and – importantly – staying with what arises became my pillars of life. My benchmark for ‘success’ has become more about how it feels and what comes out of it for my growth rather than any external validation or acceptance.
Of course this doesn’t happen overnight, I am still on this journey of listening and adapting and learning and I see it as a lifelong journey. As is the other side of the coin, the letting go of what others think and the doubt of whether I am ‘good enough’ for my place in the world.
Competitiveness may be a fun and helpful trait for many and in many circumstances. I love watching an exciting game of rugby or 100m sprint and that wouldn’t be the same without the competitive spirit. But when it is part of your life to remove you from the here and now, to validate yourself and to make you push when perhaps pushing isn’t right, then it is not healthy.
At this time of year when we set ourselves targets and insist we must be ‘better’ this year, may we have the self-compassion to approach this with gentle discipline and kind self-talk. My goal is to commit to things that appeal to me, to follow my path and grow every day without force and allow adaptation and change when I meet resistance. Happy new year :-)
West Norwood Therapies is in it’s 6th year and with each year has come a different phase in our lifetime. As it’s founder I’ve learned to let it evolve rather than try to control that evolution too much and no phase was less planned than this one! Not much about 2020 was expected and these extraordinary circumstances led us to contract rather than expand and we are now a team of 6 (plus me as a 7th managing things from Scotland) down from the 12 we were at the start of the year. This was a sad transistion and we have all grieved the loss of the team that was and the second lovely studio room we had to let go.
In my experience, if you can stay with the clouds awhile they gradually part to show the sunshine and I feel encouraged and satisfied that this new phase is a sunny one. In these covid-determined times we are feeling how important it is to connect and that emphasises the values that are at the heart of WNT. We are all part of this collaborative collective because we want to work with other skilled professionals, to have a supportive team around us and to be able to work with our clients in a meaningful way.
We had paused on our normal blog sharing, social media posts and promotions as we adjusted to working in an adapted way and we feel like it would be good to start to share our story of how we are now which we will do over the coming months. We will look at what WNT is, who the team are and then explore some of the ways we work using the 5 aspects of wellness Laura explored in her recent blog – physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social.
So we hope you will enjoy following us and getting to know us better either on Instagram or Facebook and we’ll include what we can in our monthly newsletter.
Blogs from the WNT team. For our blogs from before June 2020 please see individual profile pages - it's a good way to get to know practitioners too.